Articles

Category :

Songwriting

10 Tips for Better Lyric Writing




10 Tips for Better Lyric Writing
Written by Robin Yukiko - August 14th 2012


There are as many lyric-writing styles as there are genres. From conversational and literal to poetic, abstract, and even nonsensical. Whatever style you embody, you can always improve your craft. Here are some tips on how to do that.

  1. Have a theme. Themes don’t make your lyrics boring, they make them cohesive. Think of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and its whimsical sky references (clouds, birds, stars, chimney tops). It’s about world-building that sweeps the listener away.
  2. Try to stay away from perfect rhymes. Day and way. Run, fun, sun. They sometimes ring as childish, especially if the context is not interesting enough. Be more adventurous and less strict (fade and wait, mine and kind, crazy and maybe, etc.).
  3. Make the context interesting. If you are singing the same old love song, say it in a different way. Build from real memories, real conversation, or unusual metaphors.
  4. Put the rhymes in unusual places (internal rhymes, in the middle of phrases). It adds meat to the bones of your song.
  5. Change up the rhyme scheme. An example from Pat Pattison, “Mary had a little lamb, fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, she sold the fleece to pay the rent.”
  6. Put the emphasis on the right syllable. As much as I love Alanis Morissette, she has an annoying habit of misplacing accents, making it incredibly awkward and difficult to understand (“an un-for-TU-nate slight,” instead of “un-FOR-tu-nate” in Uninvited). If you are dead-set on a lyric that stresses the wrong syllable, don’t be afraid to change the rhythm to set it right. You can also add or take away unimportant words like “that” or separating contractions. Personally, I know a lyric is right when it sounds as if I could speak it naturally.
  7. Make your choruses more general than your verses. This is not a hard rule, but it helps to “change scenes” after your verse.
  8. Be ruthless about clichés. Speak your lyrics aloud to spot them. When you find them (and you probably will), try changing only one word to something unexpected.
  9. Keep writing different versions of the same section. You can always go back to the original, but you never know what you’ll come up with on try #5.
  10. Don’t be afraid of the tools in your arsenal. Get a thesaurus. And a rhyming dictionary.  Even if you don’t use the words you find, they can sometimes inspire other ideas. So can novels, newspapers, facebook updates, and people-watching.

You may have sensed a theme by now. Always ask yourself if you can do better. You usually can. But eventually, like a new car, you have to take it for a drive and see if it gets you there. Play it live, get honest opinions from your peers and mentors, and revise. You can play it for friends and family, but don’t expect much more than general praise. Ultimately it’s up to you, as writer Neil Gaiman would say, to make good art. And know when it’s done.



Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Learn more at www.robinyukiko.com.









Signup Free

Post Comments


By: Anonymous on 6/19/2014 3:19:40 AM

Good Article. Already doing most of those tips. Goin back to the basics can be good sometimes.www.reverbnation.com/hardwaylife

By: Anonymous on 6/16/2014 11:34:55 PM

..YOU ONLY HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE MASTER OF UNDERSTATEMENT..LYRICIST KINETIKINDRED..WRITING MUSIC/LYRICS SINCE HE WAS 12 YEARS OLD IN 1980.. INITIALLY ON 12 STRING AND VOCALS..PROGRESSING AND ADVANCING TO ALL FACETS OF THE COMPOSITION AND CONSTRUCTION OF ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRONIC MUSIC,INCLUDING SEQUENCING/SAMPLING,ENGINEERING/MIXING,PRODUCING AND MARKETING. ELECTRONIC/ROCK/DANCE/VOCAL GENRE FUSION MASTER KINETIKINDRED..GOGGLEYESIT! (.)(.)

By: Anonymous on 6/15/2014 1:29:12 AM

Another helpful tip: I am not particularly a C&W fan but one of the best (and most useful to me) bits of advice I heard came from a documentary on the top country artist/writers. This is ruthless but basically once you have used a lyric to get great melodies, choruses etc SCRAP THEM. Then come back to the music and revisit your theme later and rewrite the lyrics with a fresh ear. This avoids directional, and 'beigeing' colourisation I.e lyrics that include words such as 'up' 'down' (subliminal musical interfrrence - are you listening Noel Gallagher?) 'grey', 'dark' 'rain coming down' - the list is endless

By: Anonymous on 6/14/2014 11:27:47 PM

Very good article. I do however want to give a bit of an alternate point of view on a couple things. One... though I understand the spirit of what you mean in looking for other than a perfect rhyme, I don't agree that it demonstrates laziness. I feel the question. Is ultimately, "does it work?" The elegance of simplicity is frequently difficult to achieve. I also feel the same applies to where the stress in a word lies. Again I understand the spirit. Many writers I've worked with make this mistake with a lack of awareness. I don't think that is the case with Alanis. And there are many other classic examples such as Fleetwood Mac's, "When the rain wash-ES you clean you'll know. "

By: Anonymous on 6/14/2014 4:08:09 PM

I'm a lyricist only I need some one's musical talents,,, thnx Phil.

By: Anonymous on 6/14/2014 4:04:19 PM

Thnx your advice can only be helpfull.... Phil

By: Anonymous on 6/14/2014 12:54:15 PM

Good article.Personally I write better when I dnt limit myself,write whatever is on my mind.sometimes I wake up with lyrics in my head,really strange but it happens.

By: Anonymous on 3/23/2014 6:37:59 PM

Great article. Couldn't help but be reminded of a classic quote: "Stop rhyming and I mean it!" (and Andrè said....???)

By: charliekatt on 3/23/2014 6:13:37 PM

I agree with a lot of this except the perfect rhyme thing. Songwriters look lazy when they DON'T use good rhymes. I understand not to use extremely typical rhymes, but, DAMN! Songs sound GREAT when the words ACTUALLY rhyme! I'm sorry to be like this, but I try damn hard to rhyme and, like I said, lazy is when you "give up" and say "I'm gonna rhyme door with chair", pronounce them almost the same when I sing them and hope no one notices. I just think that a good songwriter will take the time to find the perfect rhyme OR rewrite a section to make it rhyme well. Can you tell I'm passionate about this?!! Anyway, not to sound like a complete douche, I do appreciate articles like this and thanks for posting! PS... I don't always use perfect rhymes, just my 2 cents ;-)

By: Anonymous on 1/16/2014 6:26:55 PM

great advice. thanks! youtube.com/JennNikole

By: Anonymous on 1/2/2014 11:45:30 AM

I have crew with my 3 bros and we follow all those tips

By: Anonymous on 12/26/2013 3:25:38 PM

Very useful. thanks!

By: Anonymous on 12/16/2013 7:29:24 PM

My boy friend wrote a couple of songs they are wonderful what does he need to do to get them heard Kathleen Austin

By: Anonymous on 11/28/2013 6:37:19 PM

Thank yu for that great article www.reverbnation.com/circleboyent4

By: Anonymous on 9/23/2013 7:41:20 PM

This is basic to me. But its good to help the learners - have you heard the crap out there!

By: Anonymous on 9/11/2013 8:06:52 PM

Thank you...great pointers!

By: Anonymous on 9/2/2013 1:20:48 PM

I really appreciate the pointers. Now that I have more tools I am excited to get started.

By: Anonymous on 9/2/2013 11:03:08 AM

Thanks, it is really helpfull.

By: Anonymous on 8/31/2013 10:34:20 AM

Thanks, I really needed it.

By: Anonymous on 8/18/2013 10:40:44 AM

Nice,needed this info,a music producer getting alot of songs done for my up coming Lp,thnks...

By: Anonymous on 8/1/2013 5:59:42 AM

very well thought article, that I can see helping a great number of songwriters, if only they'd take time to think about the message, and not just read it over.

By: Anonymous on 6/30/2013 6:35:56 PM

Nice one

By: Anonymous on 6/17/2013 6:41:22 PM

Great Article! One thing that helped me a lot was to take a Poetry writing class while in college. And yeah I'll sometimes write a song 5 or 6 times until it feels right. There is nothing worse than releasing a song and having a bad line make you cringe every time you have to hear it.

By: Anonymous on 6/14/2013 6:34:53 AM

good advice except i don't agree with #6. sometimes it makes a song even more interesting if the emphasis is where the listener doesn't expect it. exhibit A: Andy Partridge of XTC.

By: Anonymous on 6/9/2013 6:20:26 PM

Love it!! Retweeting it now! X phoebe @thisispasserine

By: Anonymous on 6/9/2013 6:20:17 PM

Love it!! Retweeting it now! X phoebe @thisispasserine

By: Anonymous on 5/17/2013 11:05:45 AM

Awesome - I will always go through this check sheet before pre prod thank you :-)

By: Anonymous on 5/14/2013 9:36:07 AM

I already do every one of those things and I have been for years. I guess I'm in good shape!

By: Anonymous on 4/22/2013 10:30:51 AM

This is excellent & very helpful!!! Thank you!

By: Anonymous on 4/17/2013 9:28:25 PM

Great tips! I totally agree that perfect rhymes should be avoided if possible. A great tool to find very close imperfect rhymes is Rhyme Genie: http://www.rhymegenie.com

By: Anonymous on 4/1/2013 10:00:52 PM

Thank you Robin, Great advice and your right- the most important thing is to write with excellence. Timothy & Mary Moore (BTR)

By: Anonymous on 3/12/2013 11:16:02 PM

yaa really helpfull

By: Anonymous on 3/9/2013 10:48:51 PM

You are so knowledgeable about this!:) I think I'll finish this song now? haha

By: Anonymous on 2/25/2013 3:31:16 AM

Very helpful! Especially the section that stated to make the chorus more general than the Verse. TY! http://www.indabamusic.com/#!/people/jessejamesjaime

By: Anonymous on 2/6/2013 7:33:44 AM

Keep these articles coming as they've oepend many new doors for me.

By: robinyukiko on 1/29/2013 10:03:45 AM

Thanks guys! I'm glad this helped. (Sorry, wasn't logged in.)

By: Anonymous on 1/29/2013 10:02:26 AM

Thanks guys! I'm glad this helped.

By: Anonymous on 1/26/2013 6:49:41 AM

Very nice article an good useful points we could always be better than what we are!!

By: Anonymous on 1/23/2013 4:56:41 PM

Nice piece. One thing I've learned from Quincy Jones is that the best songwriters are re-writers.

By: Anonymous on 1/23/2013 9:04:14 AM

Great.

By: Anonymous on 1/20/2013 3:13:11 PM

Thanks, I'm brijon smith and yu deserve props.

By: dandesantismusic on 1/17/2013 12:05:31 PM

Excellent article. This blog helped me through writing a song today. Thanks.

By: Anonymous on 1/7/2013 3:04:03 PM

Great article

Comments: